Laura Bruce, Director of Programmes and Partnerships and Katherine Doherty, Apprenticeships Campaign Manager, discuss how the Sutton Trust is getting involved in National Apprenticeship Week.

Today we celebrate the thirteenth National Apprenticeship Week, a fantastic opportunity to spark conversation and highlight the work that is being done year-round to increase opportunity and access to UK apprenticeships. 

To contribute to this important discussion, throughout the week we will release a series of blogs and case studies looking at the work of the Sutton Trust and our partner organisations in the area of apprenticeships. We will be exploring what is behind the barrier to many young people receiving high quality advice and guidance on apprenticeships, hearing from employers about what apprenticeships mean to their business and most importantly, hearing from young people about their experiences. 

Apprenticeships have become an increasing priority at the Trust over the last few years; in 2017 we launched our Better Apprenticeships campaign, we have since employed a dedicated member of staff to lead our apprenticeships work and we are delighted to announce that this summer we will be launching a programme to specifically address the access gap to degree level apprenticeships. We undertake all this work because we believe, and the evidence is showing, apprenticeships have the potential to be a route to achieving better social mobility but there are barriers to access. 

Our Levels of Success research in 2015 found that the earning potential of the best apprenticeships rivals that of degrees. In particular, the evidence showed that students who undertook a higher apprenticeship, at level 5, increased their lifetime earnings when compared to a graduate from a non-Russell Group university. Whilst lifetime earnings is not the only marker of success, it is an important marker and highlights top apprenticeships as a particularly effective route for young people to secure their future financial stability. 

Yet we found there were barriers to young people, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, in accessing top apprenticeships. In fact, young disadvantaged men were two times less likely to access this opportunity than their peers. It is crucial that the issue of access continues to be highlighted and tackled. Inequalities need to be addressed with better guidance for all young people. This should emphasise the benefits of apprenticeships and should be communicated more widely to young people and their parents. 

Our 2018 Apprenticeships Polling showed that students’ attitudes towards apprenticeships have improved, with two thirds of students saying that they would be interested in doing an apprenticeship after leaving school, a 9% increase on previous years. Despite this change64% of teachers said they are still unlikely to recommend apprenticeships to their highest achieving pupils, indicating there is some way to go before vocational routes are given the same status as higher education routes.  

We see this lack of access to advice and guidance as being one of the biggest barriers to less advantaged young people accessing the best apprenticeship opportunities, which is why we are launching a new Sutton Trust Apprenticeship Summer School this summer. 

We are excited to announce that in July 2020, we will offer 50 high attaining young people from less advantaged backgrounds the opportunity to explore degree-level apprenticeships as their next step. We are delighted to deliver the programme in partnership with Amazing Apprenticeships and to be working with employers such as Natwest, RBS and the Defence Equipment and Support (Ministry of Defence) who are all committed to supporting fair access to their apprenticeship opportunities.  

The programme will focus on supporting young people to better understand degree-level apprenticeships, help them find relevant opportunities and most importantly upskill them in the skills they need to secure the position.  

Looking beyond this week, we want to see more higher and degree-level apprenticeships available to young people, and a focus from employers and schools on reaching young people from less advantaged backgrounds. It is promising to hear IfATE’s CEO, Jennifer Coupland saying she did not support calls for the levy to be restricted to lower level apprenticeships as we strongly believe that protecting good quality higher and degree-level apprenticeships is vital in providing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with another route to gain higher education. Again, it is positive to hear her echo the stability needed to the levy, rather than fundamental reform, but the levy should allow employers to use a portion of it on bursaries, outreach or travel for disadvantaged apprentices. 

The best apprenticeships have the potential to be a transformational tool for social mobility but for them to reach that potential there needs to be focus on improving access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to the best apprenticeships, degree-level apprenticeships being kept within the scope of Levy funding and ensuring young people from all backgrounds get high quality advice and guidance to help them choose the right next step for them.  


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